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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

FLAMES 50 FT FROM NUKE LAB; FEDS TEST FOR RADIATION

Los Alamos Fire: EPA Testing for Radiation
By RYAN OWENS abcnews.go.com
June 29, 2011
The wildfire that surrounds the nuclear lab in Los Alamos, New Mexico, has grown to at least 61,000 acres amid mounting concerns about what might be in the smoke that's visible from space.

Such fear has prompted the Environmental Protection Agency to bring in air monitors, along with a special airplane that checks for radiation levels. So far officials have not been able to find anything.

"Our facilities and nuclear material are protected and safe," Laboratory Director Dr. Charles McMillan told ABC News.


The Los Alamos facility -- the birthplace of the atomic bomb -- was shrouded in secrecy long before it was surrounded by smoke after the Las Conchas fire began Sunday.

"It contains approximately 20,000 barrels of nuclear waste," former top security official Glen Walp said. "It's not contained within a concrete, brick and mortar-type building, but rather in a sort of fabric-type building that a fire could easily consume.

"Potential is high for a major calamity if the fire would reach these areas," he added.

The flames from the 95-square-mile fire have reportedly reached as close as 50 feet from the grounds. With a wildfire so close, lab officials, along with government officials such as New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, are trying to reassure the public of the plant's safety.

"I'm confident in saying that they are committed to making it safe," Martinez told ABC News.

Thousands Evacuated, Some Remain

After a mass evacuation, the city of Los Alamos remains a ghost town. Most of its 12,000 residents were evacuated Monday, some leaving their sprinklers on to protect their homes.

Still, according to Police Chief Wayne Torpy, about 150 die-hard residents have stayed behind, unfazed by the danger presented by their nuclear neighbor.

"I know the laboratory is secure and they're ready for this kind of emergency situation," Stephanie Chavez, a resident of Los Alamos, told ABC News.

Firefighters have made progress in the past few days, and have said that the risk of the flames reaching radioactive material is slim. Still, they caution that winds Wednesday could change, as could their level of confidence.

"It's a lot better that it's down. But we can't relax. It's better, but we can't relax quite yet," Doug Tucker, chief of the Los Alamos Fire Department, said.

The fire began around 1 p.m. Sunday, according to a report by InciWeb, which provides the Incident Information System and compiles information from government agencies. The report indicates that Sunday's weather conditions included high temperatures, low humidity and high winds, which all contributed to the inferno.

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